The oldest department store in the world looks like the streets of Paris (2023)

Paris (CNN) —The birthplace of high fashion, Paris gave the world designers like Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, who in turn gave the world some of the most enduring iconography in fashion history, including the LBD, or little black dress.

But there are two other French personalities who aren't getting as much recognition in the fashion and retail worlds as they should, as they're probably more relevant to the average family than Chanel and Dior.

At Le Bon Marché department store in Paris, which was founded in 1852 and holds the title of the oldest and oldest department store in the world, Aristide and Marguerite Boucicaut pioneered retail concepts that many people probably don't value.

The couple were revolutionary in this rapidly changing industry called retail.

The oldest department store in the world looks like the streets of Paris (1)

Founded in Paris in 1852, Le Bon Marché is the oldest and oldest department store in the world.

Yvan Matrat/Courtesy of Le Bon Marché Margem Esquerda

The practice of returning merchandise for a refund? Le Bon Marché claims the concept.

Mail order catalogs at Ikea and J.Crew?

In fact, the Boucicauts published the world's first department store catalog and included fabric swatches that customers could use to choose the color and material of their clothing. They allowed – and enabled – buyers to customize their designs.

What about the now ubiquitous modern practice of free shipping on orders of $25 or more? Arguably, Le Bon Marché was also a pioneer in this department, introducing home delivery 160 years ago for mail orders over 25 francs.

While the retail industry has changed a lot since 1852, Le Bon Marché has maintained a strong position, evolving in response to industry changes and shopper tastes.

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It's a Saturday afternoon in the women's department of upscale Left Bank department store in Paris, and shoppers are performing time-honored rituals: examining designer dresses, flipping price tags and clutching blouses around their necks to check themselves in the mirror.

Shoppers looking for bargains browse store shelves; the tactile ones let the materials slip through their fingers, while the shop windows without a busy schedule walk around the store and look at the goods.

It's a ubiquitous scene that could be repeated across the city at Galeries Lafayette, Printemps or any department store in any other city in the world.

The oldest department store in the world looks like the streets of Paris (2)

Le Bon Marché presents itself as the little big department store, a play on words in French (le petit grand magasin).

Stephane Muratet/Cortesia of Le Bon Marché Left Bank

That said, were it not for the innovative concepts developed at Le Bon Marché, today's contemporary shopping experience might not be as easily recognizable.

First, let's start with the one stop shop. Finding everything under one roof, from trousers to sheets and crockery to hairdryers and lipstick, was an idea widely popularized in Le Bon Marché under the leadership of the Boucicauts.

If you needed an umbrella in the 19th century, you went to an umbrella store. The same applies to women's clothing or shoes.

Most stores specialize in a single item, explains Eléna Fertil, manager of cultural events at Le Bon Marché, and all products were stocked behind the counter.

This way of obtaining items might seem romantic, but it was also a bit of a hassle.

"The customer didn't see anything. If he needed pink sheets, he had to ask the clerk, who would remove the pink sheets he had," said Fertil.

When Aristide arrived at the small shop at the corner of Rue du Bac and Rue de Sèvres in 1852 as a partner of the Videau brothers, he introduced modern, little-known practices that exposed wares for the public to browse and touch. He also pegged the goods at a fixed price.

“Before, the price was up to the seller, so the same product could be sold at two different prices to two different customers”, explains Fertil.

In the past, when customers entered a store, it was natural for them to leave with a purchase. But at the Bon Marché, admission was "free".

Customers were invited to come in and browse at their leisure. No purchase required. And if they had buyer regrets - too small, too big, too expensive - they could exchange or return the item for a full refund.

Goods were also priced at a lower profit margin (bon marché is French for "good deal"), but inventory turns were high.

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A meeting point for the female bourgeoisie

Along with the rewriting of commercial laws, the settlement would become a "haven of freedom and pleasure" for the women of the Parisian bourgeoisie, writes Monica Burckhardt in„Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche: Die Erfindung des Kaufhauses“,Published in 2013 and commissioned by Le Bon Marché.

There, independent of their husbands, rich wives could spend all day daydreaming and socializing.

"Back then, cities were male spaces," adds Jan Whitaker, a North Hampton, Massachusetts, consumer historian who authored the 2011 book"The World of Department Stores."

"For an upper-middle-class woman, the streets were a vulnerable place. So department stores became women's spaces, and that was very important.”

The oldest department store in the world looks like the streets of Paris (3)

The business model is still about attracting as many people as possible and getting them to stay.

Archives of the Left Bank of the Goods Market

The business model was the same as it is now: attract as many people as possible from across the socioeconomic spectrum into the company – and have them stay.

"It was a luxury for the masses," Whitaker said. “These were grandiose buildings to which the lower classes would never be invited.

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patrons of the arts

The Boucicauts also knew the importance of customer loyalty and time spent in the store.

After the Videau brothers purchased and assumed full ownership in 1863, the couple expanded the premises and added new features and services that were considered pioneering at the time: a reading room for the husbands, a living room with free food and drinks, a billiards room, hairdresser, travel agency and live shows.

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The oldest department store in the world looks like the streets of Paris (4)

The Boucicauts knew the importance of customer loyalty and time spent in the store.

Archives of the Left Bank of the Goods Market

Another claim to fame? Gustave Eiffel was one of the engineers involved who helped design the steel structure of the building.

But one of the Boucicauts' greatest legacies, and one that is still particularly honored to this day, is their patronage of the visual arts.

Avant-garde, the couple opened an art gallery in the department store in 1875, housing their works and a large audience for artists who had been shut out of the Salon de Paris—the official art exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, wrote Burckhardt.

Stroll through the store today, 145 years later, and you'll discover that paintings, photographs, drawings and sculptures - a curated collection of contemporary art spanning the past 30 years - line the walls of the store and are strategically placed amidst the luxury goods.

In 2016, the store invited Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei to launch a new arts program to honor Aristide's creation of the annual January White Sale.

As the story goes, Boucicault walked around and was dejected to see the shop so empty after the Christmas break. After looking out the window and seeing the snow, he decided to remove all the white goods from the store and have a big sales event, explained Fertil.

Continuing that tradition, the store launched a program every January inviting international contemporary artists to create bespoke pop-up installations for Le Bon Marché.

Your only request? It's about the white color. Everything else is carte blanche for the artists, as the saying goes.

"These exhibits are really meant to be gifts for our visitors," said Fertil. “The idea is that, when strolling through the Bon Marché, they are moved by the artist's vision. A few loyal customers visit our exhibitions every year, but we know that others who have come just to shop will be pleasantly surprised to discover exhibitions like this one."

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Le Bon Marché's name change

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A rebranding in 1984 included aligning the brand with the high-end luxury market.

Archives of the Left Bank of the Goods Market

Today, Le Bon Marché describes itself as the little, big department store, a play on French words (le petit grand magasin). Compared to Printemps (founded by a former Bon Marché employee) and Galeries Lafayette, arguably the prettier of the three, Le Bon Marché is more manageable in size and lends itself to a "stroll" or slower stroll.

"It was designed to inspire people to walk around the store like we do in the streets of Paris to discover new things, be amazed, stop, have a coffee and relax," added Store Style Added Director Jennifer Culliver.

Indeed, as in the streets of Paris, a stroll through the department store means strolling past architectural gems, especially under the dozens of skylights, originally designed to flood the store with natural light and highlight the merchandise.

Today, Boucicaut's understanding of lighting and product marketing is an indispensable part of retail layout and design.

The oldest department store in the world looks like the streets of Paris (6)

The department store now offers some of the most exclusive luxury brands in the world.

Gabriel de la Chapelle/Cortesia of Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche

after beingAcquired by the LVMH Group in 1984, Le Bon Marché was renamed to appeal to the upscale luxury market.

The department store now owns some of the world's most exclusive luxury brands, but it's also trying to stay relevant by acquiring new and emerging brands and entering into exclusive collaborations with designers, says Culliver.

In-store personalization services invite shoppers to personalize their sneakers and jeans; Cooking classes and demonstrations are held regularly throughout the year; and artists are invited to dialogue with the public.

All strategies are aimed at attracting walk-in customers at a time when e-commerce and online retail giants like Amazon have completely transformed the way consumers shop.

Department stores across the United States are faltering, but Le Bon Marché hopes to entice some of those international visitors for a different shopping experience.

Unlike Macy's, the well-known American department store that existscloses its gatesAcross the country, Le Bon Marché is not struggling to survive.

The competition isn't suffering either: Galeries Lafayette opened a new location on the Champs-Elysées last year, while this spring LVMH is reviving the historic La Samaritaine building as a mixed-use development that will bring a new luxury department store to the city. Lux.

Whitaker points out that it's a key demographic that keeps traditional department stores like Le Bon Marché from becoming obsolete.

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"Tourists are very important for the survival of department stores in Europe. They are people who have time to explore and spend money on leisure."


What is the oldest department store in the world? ›

The Bon Marché in Paris, which began as a small shop in the early 19th century, is widely considered the first department store.

What is the oldest department store in Paris? ›

The Bon Marché Rive Gauche in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, the first Parisian department stores' to be opened in 1852, still exudes elegance and sophistication.

What is the oldest department store in France? ›

Bon Marché, (French: “Good Buy”), department store in Paris, founded as a small shop in the early 19th century. By about 1865 it had become the world's first true department store.

What is the oldest department store still open? ›

Lord & Taylor – 1826

It is now the oldest mid- to high-range department store chain in the United States.

What is the oldest store today? ›

Northville 5 & 10, located at 122 S. Main St. Northville, NY, is the oldest 5 &10 store still operating in the U.S. today. Founded in 1907 by R. G.

What is the most famous department store in the world? ›

Harrods – London

Arguably the most famous department store in the world, Harrods was founded in 1849 and to this day is a London landmark attracting tourists from across the globe.

What is the famous department store in Paris? ›

Galeries Lafayette

One of Paris' most beautiful department stores, head to the center of the store for a stunning view of the glass dome and beautiful Art Nouveau design from 1912. If you're looking for home décor, head to the Galeries Lafayette home store just across the street.

What is the oldest thing in Paris? ›

The Arenes de Lutece is the oldest monument built in Paris, its construction dates back to the 1st century AD! It is in Ile de la Cité and in the Latin Quarter where the Roman Lutetia (IC AD) developed along its Cardo Maximus, the present rue Saint Jacques.

What is the richest street in Paris? ›

Finally, if you want to know the most expensive street in Paris, it's located in the 6th arrondissement: Rue Guynemer. On Rue Guynemer, you'll need an average of 23,008€ per square meter to find your dream home.

What is the most famous department store in France? ›

Galeries Lafayette: Shop in Style at Europe's Biggest Department Store. Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann is the ultimate shopping destination and has been at the beating heart of Paris since its creation in 1894.

What are the names of two French department stores? ›

Today the famous Le Bon Marché, BHV, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are known throughout the world and make Paris famous.

What famous department store emerged in the late 1800s? ›

The Macy's name is synonymous with American department stores. R. H. Macy opened his first store—a sewing supply store—in Boston in 1844.

What was the first major department store? ›

Arnold Constable was the first American department store. It was founded in 1825 as a small dry goods store on Pine Street in New York City. In 1857 the store moved into a five-story white marble dry goods palace known as the Marble House.

What is the oldest department store in North America? ›

It is the flagship brand of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), the oldest and longest-surviving company in North America as well as one of the oldest continuously operating companies in the world. Founded on 2 May 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company opened its first department store in 1881 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Where is the oldest grocery store in the world? ›

Piggly Wiggly was the first self-service grocery store. It was founded on September 6, 1916 (although it did not open until five days later due to delays in construction), at 79 Jefferson Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, by Clarence Saunders.

What is the most beautiful store in the world? ›

The World's MOST Beautiful DepartmentStore: Galeries Lafayette Haussmann
  • 40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009 PARIS.
  • Monday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm and Sundays and public holidays from 11am to 8pm.
18 Oct 2022

What is the most luxury store? ›

House of Bijan is already known as the most expensive store in the world, and, as of last month, it is the most expensive space on Rodeo Drive. LVMH purchased the location for a record price of $19, 405 per square foot. The Los Angeles Business Journal first reported the $122 million purchase.

What is world's most famous store? ›

#1 Macy's, New York, US

The Macy's store in New York is an important landmark in one of the world's biggest fashion capitals. The store, which has almost one million square feet to its name, has appeared in over 50 different movies and television shows according to On Location Tours.

What is Paris most famous street? ›

Champs-Élysées, officially Avenue des Champs-Élysées (French: “Avenue of the Elysian Fields”), broad avenue in Paris, one of the world's most famous, which stretches 1.17 miles (1.88 km) from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.

What are the 2 most famous shopping centers in Paris? ›

Westfield Forum des Halles, Beaugrenelle, Carrousel du Louvre and Champs-Elysées Shopping Malls are close to some of the most famous sights in the city. They are therefore very practical. Farther away from downtown, Les Quatre Temps and Val d'Europe are the biggest.

What is the famous shopping street in Paris called? ›

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

Packed with tourists, the Champs-Élysées offers both a great photo-op and lots of big fashion retailers. One of the most famous avenues in Paris, the Champs-Élysées historically housed big luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Guerlain.

Why are there bones under Paris? ›

The city needed a better place to put its dead. So it went to the tunnels, moving bones from the cemeteries five stories underground into Paris' former quarries. Cemeteries began to be emptied in 1786, beginning with Les Innocents.

How many bones are under Paris? ›

Catacombs: Paris' Underground Cemetery

In the 14th district of Paris are the Catacombs, also known as the underground ossuary (or l'Ossuaire Municipal) where 6 million skeletons are stacked in an orderly fashion and date back several centuries ago.

Which is oldest Paris or London? ›

Paris is older than London. A Gallic tribe known as the Parisii established what would later be called Paris around 250 BC, while the Romans established London in 50 AD.

What is the poorest place in Paris? ›

Grigny, a southern suburb of Paris (pictured below), is reportedly the poorest commune in France, with a poverty rate of 44.8 percent, three times higher than the national average.

Where do the rich live in Paris? ›

Neuilly is the most affluent residential area in France. It is valued for its immediate proximity to Paris' Porte Maillot, La Défense business district, Bois de Boulogne, the Seine, and the popular Île de la Jatte.

What is the most famous brand in Paris? ›

Louis Vuitton

What is the most popular store in Europe? ›

Top 30 Retailers in Europe
26 more rows

What is Paris version of Walmart? ›

Carrefour is the closest thing to a French Walmart in terms of products and selection. Carrefour is the world's second-leading general retailer after Walmart and one of the largest and most well-known supermarket chains in Europe and France.

What is the name of Europe's largest department store? ›

Spanish company El Corte Inglés is Europe's biggest department store group and the third-largest worldwide.

What do French people call thrift stores? ›

In Paris alone you'll find dozens of shops specializing in everything from luxury vintage couture to cheap thrift clothing called “friperies”. With an overwhelming amount of options, it's easy to get lost.

What was a popular store in the 1960s? ›

The three biggest department stores in the mid-1960s, both in sales volume and physical size, were Macy's, Hudson's, and Marshall Field, in that order. Hudson's, shown here, had 25 stories, 16 of them selling floors.

What store has been around the longest? ›

In 1826, Lord & Taylor opened its first store and continues to operate to this day. Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor, both immigrants from England, opened a goods store in New York City in 1826.

What is the name of the large old department store in London? ›

What is London's largest department store? Harrods is the largest department store in London. It has seven storeys and homes over 330 brands, spanning over 1.1 million square feet. At 540,000 square feet, Selfridge's flagship Oxford Street store is also one of the largest in the world.

Where are departmental stores famous in the world? ›

Harrods, London

With more than a million square feet of selling space spread over 300-plus departments, you'd be hard pressed not to find something to buy in Harrods, the world's most iconic department store.

Which department store was a huge part of the original 1947 Miracle on 34th Street but declined to be any part of the 1994 remake? ›

Macy's part in the 1947 "Miracle" included its Herald Square store and logo, footage from the parade and even scenes featuring a make-believe Mr. Macy, whose Santaphobic skepticism evaporated when he grasped the commercial advantages of having the real Father Christmas on his payroll.

What is the smallest store in the world? ›

Located a few doors down from the Christopher Street PATH Station in the West Village is the "World's Smallest Store." The interior of the 50-square-foot store looks like a long, narrow closet filled with clothing and other wares extending to a table on the sidewalk.

What is the biggest store on earth? ›

Since March 2009, the world's largest moniker goes to Shinsegae Centum City Department Store, located in Busan, South Korea.

What is the most high end department store? ›

Here are the 30 best high-end department stores in 2022.
  • Barneys, New York.
  • Nordiska Kompaniet, Stockholm. ...
  • APROPOS, Hamburg. ...
  • Illums Bolighus, Copenhagen. ...
  • De Bijenkorf, Amsterdam. ...
  • YME, Oslo. ...
  • John Lewis Oxford Street, London. John Lewis, London / Rex Features / ...
  • Macy's, New York. Macy's, New York / Shutterstock. ...

Where is the oldest department store in the world? ›

The oldest department store is Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly Street, London. The store was established in 1707 by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason as a grocery store which sold quality and exotic food and later developed into a department store.

Where is the oldest general store in the United States? ›

Gray's General Store is a general store located at 4 Main Street in Adamsville, Rhode Island. Founded in 1788, it operated for almost 225 years and was reputed to be the oldest continually operating general store in the United States.

Was Macy the first department store? ›

Macy's (originally R. H. Macy & Co.) is an American chain of high-end department stores founded in 1858 by Rowland Hussey Macy.
Macy's Herald Square, the flagship store (2018)
FoundedOctober 28, 1858 in New York, New York, U.S.
FounderRowland Hussey Macy
11 more rows

Was Marshall Fields the first department store? ›

Founded in the 19th century, it grew to become a large chain before Macy's, Inc acquired it in 2005. Its eponymous founder, Marshall Field, was a pioneering retail magnate.
Marshall Field's.
Founded1852, in Chicago
DefunctSeptember 9, 2006
4 more rows

What is the most famous shopping street? ›

While it may have recently been invaded by suburban mall favorites likes the Disney Store, Abercrombie & Fitch and H&M, Fifth Avenue remains New York's (and the world's) best shopping street.

Why does Macy's have a red star? ›

The Beginning of an Iconic Brand

Rowland Hussey Macy adopted a red star as his symbol of success, dating back to his days as a sailor.

What is the oldest store in America? ›

Yes Brooks Brothers, founded in 1818, is both the oldest retail chain and oldest retail clothing company but the Moravian Book Shop has the distinction of being the oldest retailer of any kind in America. The Moravian Book Shop is also the oldest bookstore in America. The shop is located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

What was Marshall Field famous for? ›

Marshall Field, (born Aug. 18, 1834, near Conway, Mass., U.S.—died Jan. 16, 1906, New York City), American department-store owner whose pioneering activities in retail merchandising were continued and extended into publishing by successive generations of his family.

What major department stores still exist? ›

Corporate chains national
  • Hudson Bay Company. Saks Fifth Avenue. Saks Off 5th.
  • Macy's. Bloomingdale's.
  • Neiman Marcus Group, Inc. Neiman Marcus. Last Call. Bergdorf Goodman.
  • Nordstrom, Inc. Nordstrom. Nordstrom Rack.

What is the best department store in the US? ›

popularity is the % of people who have a positive opinion of a department store. Find out more
  • 1 Target67%
  • 2 Dollar Tree66%
  • 3 Kohl's64%
  • 4 Costco64%
  • 5 Walmart61%
  • 6 Big Lots60%
  • 7 J. C. Penney60%
  • 8 Sam's Club60%


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